"When you're not sweeping your mouse frantically across the screen searching for any objects you may have missed, you're trying to decode the humorous and engaging puzzles. When the solutions to said puzzles infuriatingly evade you, the laugh-out-loud moments the game throws your way eases your frustration."
For every overambitious flop of a game released, there should be a correctional lesson of sorts. One that will help those involved learn from their mistakes. One that will remind them of how things should be. For every flash-but-no-substance release that must be suffered by us, the players, the development team should be made to experience games like The Secret of Monkey Island.
There's a lot of today's designers that could learn from yesterday's works, where a game needed more than pretty graphics to be good. Games back then needed a little something special, an indefinable charm that more picturesque modern games seem to have lost along the way, something this entry has. Things were undeniably different when Monkey Island made its first appearance. As PCs had the running power of a modern-day calculator, the graphics exhibited are pixilated, choppy efforts, supported by a jaunty but basic soundtrack that suffers from being a little on the overused side. Cinematic CGIs are predated with close-ups of your hideous cast members, and voice acting isn't to be found for another two sequels
But despite these 'flaws' that would make the game unacceptable in the modern-day market, Monkey Island has managed to age well.
A lot of this is to do with its protagonist, Guybrush Threepwood. The skinny little blond-haired runt would love nothing more than to be a pirate and will stop at nothing to accomplish his dreams. Travelling to vagabond-infested Mêlée [note the funny accents, because it took me forever to figure out how to use them] Island, he advertises his dream to anyone who'll listen. After braving blind night-watchmen, insanely territorial cooks and game-plugging cabin boys, he stumbles across the very pirate council that he seeks. In an effort to impress his would-be superiors, a set of goals are established. Before Guybrush even has time to mutter a quick "yarr, matey", his travels will begin, taking him to such outlandish locations as the not-so-vast oceans, the many locales nestled away in Mêlée Island itself, and even the game's namesake -- the dreaded Monkey Island.
Navigating Guybrush around these sparsely detailed environments is simplicity itself, allowing you to click on any destination you wish Mr Threepwood to investigate. Drag said cursor over an item of worth, and its name will be highlighted. Items can be taken, borrowed, bought or straight-out stolen, but they all join the ranks inside Guybrush's seemingly unlimited inventory. It is these items you collect, and how you put them to use, that will decide how far you progress.
Let's assume that you've been locked in a room and need to get out. You soon find the only items of worth to be a broken cordless phone and an old magazine detailing the mating rituals of walruses. You may already be asking yourself how such items will help pave the way to your freedom [unless you're now curious about those frisky walruses] prompting a more thorough examination of the room. Under scrutiny of further sleuthing, you find that there is a key on the other side of the door, left idly in the opposite keyhole. With a little bit of mental arithmetic, you slide the magazine under the door, and poke the key lose with the telescopic antenna of the phone, making the key land on the magazine. You retrieve the mag from the gap beneath door along with the key it has collected, and freedom is yours!
This is a fictional example from the depths of my mind, not something you'll find mid-game. Clever? I like to think so. Anywhere near as insane as the trials presented by Monkey Island? No.
When you're not sweeping your mouse frantically across the screen searching for any objects you may have missed, you're trying to decode the humorous and engaging puzzles. When the solutions to said puzzles infuriatingly evade you, the laugh-out-loud moments the game throws your way ease your frustration. Want to defeat the resident swordmaster and prove to your pirate brethren that you can handle a cutlass? Then distract your would-be mentor mid-swordfight with some cutting insults and barbed words. Want to climb aboard your very own pirate vessel? First you must do verbal battle with Stan, the second-hand ship salesman. Want to woo the beautiful and elegant Elaine, governor of Mêlée Island, and girl of your dreams? Before you even say "Hi, that's a nice eyepatch you're wearing", you need outwit the villainous sheriff, Fester Shinetop. And all the while watching you from the wings is the dread pirate LeChuck, a zombie with enough pent-up rage and aggression for an entire armada of swashbuckling villains. And as such examples of evil are wont to do, he's taken quite the strong dislike to everything Guybrush.
It's hard to know why though, because Guybrush is as likeable as any lead I can care to mention. His constant stream of witticisms, often directed at the game itself, and one-liners will keep you entertained and enthralled throughout. Imagine a more modern day game making fun of its repetitive backgrounds like Guybrush constantly does. Picture Master Chief telling the players how bored he is of travelling through the same rooms over and over again in Halo, or of Dante making snide comments about how overpriced Devil May Cry is. It just wouldn't happen, and that's ok. Because we have the Monkey Island series to -- amongst other such gags -- break the fourth wall for us. And because we have Monkey Island to display the kind of heart that most games have long left behind in search for graphical perfection and visual razzmatazz.
You'll laugh at the jokes, and you'll cry at the frustration of some puzzles, but in the end you'll just help Guybrush along with his dream. A dream to be a pirate, and drink grog beside dirty-looking men with voluminous beards and wooden legs. A dream to shiver some timbers, and avoid spending some down time in Davy Jones' locker. A dream that leads him on the zaniest adventure he'll ever partake in. Until Monkey Island 2.
Because The Secret of Monkey Island will show why although the point 'n' click genre is dead, it's still not forgotten.
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